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Techniques of Printmaking

Relief printing:

The raised surfaces of the printing plate (those not cut / engraved) are printed. The artist cuts / engraves and removes form the surface areas intended to print white. The representation is printed in reverse. Woodcut, stone engraving and linocut belong to this category.


The cut is made on a long grain block or on a plywood (printed either by hand or in a press) or on an end grain block (use of a printing press). The tools used are cutters and gouges for the long grain block and burins for the end grain block.

Stone engraving:

This is the same technique as woodcutting.


The pattern is cut on a plastic matrix (linoleum). This is the same technique as woodcutting. The tools used are cutters and gouges. It is printed by hand or press.

Intaglio printing:

The parts to be printed, i.e. those engraved, are incised into a plate. In intaglio printing the incised line or sunken area holds the ink (the parts that have been removed) on the usually metallic plate and its surface is carefully wiped off. The image is engraved using mechanical means (dry point, engraving, mezzotint…), or chemical means (etching, tone etching…). The image is printed in reverse. This technique has various methods. A press is always used for this technique.


Mechanical method applied using a needle as a main tool ”scratching” the metallic plate.


Mechanical method. The plate is engraved using a burin and a tint burin.


Mechanical method. The metallic smooth surface of the plate is scraped using a special tool (rocker) (if then the plate is inked, the ink shall penetrate into the countless dots and the paper shall print black). Then, the plate is burnished with a burnisher: by varying the degree of smoothing the tones between black and white can be created. If the plate is completely smoothed the area will print white.

Etching / Line etching:

Chemical method. The metallic (copper, zinc, or steel) plate is covered with a hard wax ground which is then scratched off with a point. Then, its unprotected parts are chemically bitten using acid in which it is dipped. The process is repeated as many times as the printmaker wants in order to achieve deeper lines that will print more dark. Every time the parts that have been corroded are covered with stopping-out varnish to stop corrosion so there is less ink in the etched lines. For chemical methods, the plate is washed off and ink is applied to the plate.

Aquatint / Tone etching:

Chemical method. The plate is is covered with rosin powder which resists to acid. The plate is then heated and the rosin adheres to the plate, leaving the tiny parts unprotected. The plate is then dipped into nitric acid producing a layer of corrosion. By covering with stopping-out varnish and dipping the plate repeatedly into acid, the printmaker may achieve the requested tonal variations.

Soft-ground etching:

Chemical method. The printmaker applies a coating-mixture of etching ground and tallow – on the surface of the heated plate. Then, he places a piece of paper and with a hard crayon he draws the picture. The pressure he applies with the crayon makes the paper stick on the ground. In this way the drawing is printed on the plate at the points where there is no more ground. The plate is dipped into acid and its uncovered parts are corroded. This method is also used to transfer real objects of a minimum thickness which are placed on the plate.

Sugar-lift aquatint:

Chemical method. With a viscous solution of India ink and sugar the image is drawn directly on the surface with a painting brush or a pen. Then, the whole plate is covered with a thin layer of bitumen- based ground. The dry plate is then dipped into hot water which melts the solution of India ink and sugar leaving the drawing uncovered. Then a short etching follows.

Blind embossing:

This is not a printmaking technique. This is a printing technique; the image on the plate is printed under extreme pressure without ink.

Photopolymer intaglio:

Nontoxic chemical method. Usually, after the creation of an aquatint background, an image (drawing, black and white picture on a transparent film) in black and white is placed on a metallic plate with a layer of a light-sensitive polymer. Then, the whole set is exposed to the sun. The plate may be printed using the relief or intaglio printing technique.


A metallic plate is covered with glue on which slightly embossed objects are placed and glued. The plate may be printed using the relief or intaglio printing technique.

Planographic printing:

The image is drawn or painted on the plate. The parts that will be printed and those that will not are on the same level. The image is printed in reverse. Lithography and monotyping belong to this category.


Lithography is based on the chemical reaction of grease and water. Where there is grease, the stone accepts the greasy printing ink but where there is no grease and the plate is wet it repeals the ink. Successively, the printmaker draws the work onto the lithographic stone (limestone) with a greasy pencil or chemical ink, then an aqueous solution of gum Arabic, which is weekly acidified with nitric acid, is applied on the stone. The grease of the drawing repeals the water which enters all non-image surfaces. Only the drawing accepts the greasy printing ink.


”Painting” technique. The artist paints on a metallic or plastic or glass surface, with colours. The image is immediately printed. Only one copy can be clearly printed. When a print made with any technique is printed for only one copy, it may not be called monotype.


The matrix is not engraved. Ink passes through the holes of the matrix onto the paper placed underneath the matrix. The image is not printed in reverse. Old stencil techniques and screen printing belong to this category.

Screen printing with stencil:

Ancient traditional method for decorating fabrics in Japan and other countries.

Screen printing:

Ink passes through a special mesh (initially from silk) stretched over a frame and processed accordingly so the image can be printed, i.e. in the mesh openings except in areas made impermeable to the ink using various techniques.

Digital printmaking:

The digital work which was conceived to be digitalised may be considered as an authentic print. The image must be created by the artist. The computer is deemed to be the matrix from which copies are printed. Copies must be limited, printed using special printer, special paper and special inks.